GAA All Ireland Club SFC Quarter-Final - Here’s where the story ends
By Damian Dolan
Just a few minutes in the company of Tir Chonaill Gaels director of football Paddy Carr are enough to understand why his players are prepared to run through walls for him.
Not a word is wasted and clichés never spill from his lips. Carr speaks with the calm authority of having been there and done it - every word carries meaning. The Arsene Wenger of the GAA world one might venture, only with more recent silverware to put on the table.
On Sunday at Ruislip he’ll ask his players to climb a veritable cliff face when they line up against Munster and Kerry champions Dr Crokes. Not demand, ask.
And have no doubt that his players will move heaven and earth for 60 minutes, and more if required, to try and do just that. Not for themselves, but for Carr and his management team, and for the club they’ve adopted as a second home.
For Carr, who won this tournament in 2009 with Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes, victory for the Gaels on Sunday would be the equal of that success, with the Greenford club having fallen at this hurdle 13 times in the past.
Indeed, no London club has ever progressed past this stage of the competition. History, as well as the calibre of their opposition, is against Tir Chonaill, but for Carr that simply means there’s history crying out to be made, and the chance to be the first.
“If Tir Chonaill Gaels were to succeed it’s the opportunity to tell a remarkable story,” he said. “Everything is a story – all great feats are a story.
“The difference between the victor and the vanquished is that the victor always gets the chance to tell the story. That would be a huge spur for us to get the chance to tell our own story – it’s a huge incentive.
“The winning of an All Ireland in Croke Park is an extraordinary moment. With Kilmacud Crokes we went 14 championship matches to try and win it. In relation to Tir Chonaill Gaels, one of the things that excites me about the challenge is that everyone is saying that it can’t be done, and recent history shows that is hasn’t been done.
“It would be an immense satisfaction if we were to come out on the right side of the result on Sunday. It would be right up there - it would be historic.”
If those words are not enough to inspire the 15 lads that pull on the red and white of Tir Chonaill Gaels on Sunday, and those that play their part from the bench, then nothing will.
Whether it’s mind games or genuine, and one suspects it’s the latter, Carr is refusing to be consumed by the quality of the opposition that the Gaels must overcome, if they are to achieve that history.
Rather, the considerable threat of Dr Crokes is duly noted and a tip of the hat given in their direction, with Carr’s focus very much on what his players can bring to the table on Sunday. Not for Carr an over preoccupation with talking up their opposition, while playing down his own side’s chances.
“One of the dangers is thinking that the outcome hinges on the question ‘how do you stop Dr Crokes?’. I don’t think that’s the way to go about it,” he said.
“We’ve a lot of experience in our squad and we know that the key is getting our own game plan right and ensuring, through force of will, that our game plan is the more evident on the day.
“It’s a little bit like some of the teams playing Crossmaglen - they can get a little bit too preoccupied about nullifying the opposition. That wouldn’t be our style at all. We will go out to play to our own strengths and I’m confident that will be very self-evident.
“That being said, we’ve not naive. We know where the threats come from on the Dr Crokes side, and they come from very different angles.
“If they get enough of the ball they’ll punish anybody and the challenge for us is to ensure that we do everything we can to bring our game of possession right up, because we can punish teams too. It will be a great battle of wills.
Carr is clearly a man relishing the challenge ahead, not shrinking by it. No doubt his players will take their lead from him. Carr admits, though, that a good start is imperative. Eighteen seconds was all Daithí Casey needed to open to open Crokes’ account against Castlehaven in the Munster final, and the Cork side never had a look in after that.
“The old saying about a good start being half the battle is very true. You never have to recover from a good start. Recent history shows that the teams coming over from Ireland have tended to get ahead of the London Champions, and that’s not the scenario you’d want to be in,” said Carr.
“The most surprising thing was the ease with which they despatched Castlehaven. They’ve put big distances between themselves and the opposition and they’re certainly coming into form. There’s no doubt about that. They have momentum, they have games behind them and that would be seen as an advantage.”
Eoin Brosnan may be missing on Sunday but in the likes of Brian Looney, Kieran O’Leary, Johnny Buckley, Jamie Doolan, Daithí Casey, Chris Brady, Ambrose O’Donovan and the unmistakeable Colm Cooper, they have threats all over pitch. While with each passing round of the Munster championship Crokes have found another gear.
The Holy Grail for Crokes one senses is a rematch with Crossmaglen Rangers, and Ruislip is just a means to an ends. Would an All Ireland title even mean as much if it didn’t include the chance to take the scalp of the Armagh giants? Crokes have unfinished business, but after 13 failed attempts to bridge this chasm, so to Tir Chonaill Gaels
“There is a consciousness in Tir Chonaill Gaels that Dr Crokes, or any other team, don’t have a divine right to be any hungrier than we are. We know that history is against us and we know the cliff face that’s in front of us, but the enjoyment is in facing that challenge,” said Carr.